26 Jun 2015

Harnessing the blue wealth of the Western Indian Ocean

A view of Cousine Island from Cousin Island, Seychelles (Photo: Ademola Ajagbe)
By Christina Hagen and Ademola Ajagbe

 “The ocean is my marine library," were the wise words of a young Seychellois boy who read out a poem he’d written for the Opening Ceremony of the just concluded 8th Conference of the Parties (COP 8) of the Nairobi Convention with the theme 'Conserving the Marine and Coastal Environment for the Western Indian Ocean for the next 30 Years'. Seychelles’ hosting the COP 8 meeting three decades after the Convention was adopted on its soil was an unprecedented coincidence.

The Western Indian Ocean is hailed as one of the cleanest oceanic regions on the planet. This accounts for its unique marine life characterised by spectacular coastal and marine features and remarkable biological diversity. But with urban sprawl in coastal cities, the marine environment is increasingly stretched and stressed. Overfishing to feed burgeoning populations has depleted fish stocks in territorial waters. Security and oil and gas developments also raise concerns in the maritime sector. Climate change evidenced by the El Nino incidence of 1998 and disasters like the Tsunami of 2004 further exacerbate the challenges that region is grappling with.

Scenic view of Mahe, Seychelles (Photo: Ademola Ajagbe)

The ten Contracting Parties to the Nairobi Convention (Somalia, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Seychelles, Comoros, Madagascar, La Reunion and Mauritius) have therefore agreed ambitious Decisions that will catalyse green growth in the coming 30 years. The emerging Blue Economy was recognised as the last frontier for accelerated economic development in the region. Each country abounds with vast oceanic resources that are largely unexploited, aside fisheries and maritime transport.

According to Mr. Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, "the Small Island Developing States in the region have the potential to generate up to 100% of their energy demands from renewable sources within a decade." Mozambique, Seychelles and South Africa have each established structures to sustainably tap into the wealth of their blue world; all the other countries are keen to get on board.

COP 8 also recognised the overarching African Union’s Agenda 2063 and urged parties to take cognisance of its ecosystem-based management approaches to improve resilience in the region.

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A State of the coast report for the region was launched at the COP. The report compiles compelling evidence of the ecological and socio-economic status of the coasts of the Western Indian Ocean.

The COP also featured an exciting pilot project by Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner in Seychelles) on coral restoration in Seychelles. The success story of the project inspired hope in the hearts and minds of the participants against the deplorable state of many coral reefs in the region.


Story by Christina Hagen and Ademola Ajagbe